This morning I was pointed to this post by David Howe on the BFS Forums. In it he confirms that he did indeed act as the administrator for the awards. However, the votes were automatically counted by software (which I guess explains the online-only ruling), and were independently checked by the BFS webmaster, Del Lakin-Smith. Neither Del nor his wife, Kim, was up for an award this year.
So as far as that is concerned there’s absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing, but a fairly clear error of judgement by Howe in accepting an award when he was the award administrator. I note from comments in my previous post that the British Science Fiction Association has a similar rule to the Hugos about award administrators not being eligible for the awards. Obviously there are issues with available volunteers, but it is a fairly simple rule that will make it much harder for Steve Jones and others to sling mud.
Howe also gives some voting figures. A total of 140 people cast ballots. The largest number of voters who participated in any category was 120, and the lowest 77. For comparison this year’s Hugos had 2,100 voters. The most popular category had 1813 ballots cast, and the least popular 814. Also, as I noted yesterday, the Hugos use a preferential ballot that makes it harder for a small, dedicated clique to dominate the voting, whereas the BFS does not. I understand the attraction of first-past-the-post voting, but hopefully you can see why a ballot with low participation numbers might choose a preferential system.
Finally, on the question of participation, I have now had two people say to me that, as members of FantasyCon but not members for the BFS, it was not at all clear that they were entitled to vote. This is potentially a rather more serious issue as the results of the ballot could have changed if more FantasyCon members had voted. I understand that the convention had around 500 members, and not all of the 140 who did vote were members (myself, for example).
It is not obvious who is responsible for this, and indeed responsibility may lie with many people. To start with I only have two bits of anecdata, and those people may have missed the messages they were getting, or they may have signed up too late to vote (I believe that votes are counted before the convention as with the Hugos — there is no voting at the convention as with the BSFA Awards). Also it isn’t clear how responsibility for contacting voters is shared between FantasyCon and the BFS committee. It would seem likely that FantasyCon should have contacted its members, and had something on the website about the awards, but it is possible that the arrangement was that they should share membership details with the BFS. I think the latter is less likely as it would probably be a breach of UK data protection laws, but I don’t want to point fingers without a proper understanding of who should have done what.
This all comes back to what I said yesterday about making it easy for people to vote. If you don’t want the results of your awards dominated by a small clique then you need more people voting, and the starting point for that has to be to make sure that everyone who is entitled to vote knows about the ballot and can participate easily.
I see from The Guardian that Sam Stone has returned her Best Novel award.
Also Damien Walter has called for a “unified spec-fic award”, allegedly becuase the BFS and BSFA Awards are, “dominated by amateur writers and publishers voting for their own work.”
We now have a comment on the previous post from someone who was a FantasyCon member, but not a BFS member, saying that he got an email from FantasyCon reminding him to vote. As I understand it, voting takes place in June and July. It is quite possible that some of the people who say they didn’t know they could vote joined the convention after that time.